Interview with Author Sara Dahmen
Today I welcome author Sara Dahmen. Besides being the creator of excellently-written women’s historical fiction novels, she is an event planner, an artisan, business owner, wife, and mother of three. Her research for her new novel Widow, formerly titled Dr. Kinney’s Housekeeper, and an appreciation for vintage cookware led her to found her businesses House Copper & Cookware —which features the most amazing copper cookware. Did I mention she’s an apprentice coppersmith?
Today is also the release date for Widow, so we're celebrating that fun event with her. With such a busy week, I am grateful she has taken time out of her crazy schedule to visit us and let me pepper her with questions.
Sara, I’ve given a quick biography of your many talents above, but can you tell us a little bit more about yourself and how you began your writing career?
I’ve always been a writer – since before I could properly spell! And I suppose that’s shaped a large part of my career(s) in general: it always had to be something creative and expressive. But let’s see…I used to be in advertising as a print, radio and tv producer before running the event planning business (which I just sold to a wonderful woman named Summer White Eagle), and now writing has become a major part of every day, largely thanks to the success of Dr. Kinney’s Housekeeper (now re-issued and re-released as a novel called Widow by the new publisher). I’m also really keen on researching – not just googling, but visiting each locale, reading countless reference (eg pretty boring!) books and sources – and that makes the writing a ton of fun as well.
What was your inspiration for Dr. Kinney’s Housekeeper and how did your research lead to the creation of House Copper & Cookware.
Would you believe Dr. Kinney’s Housekeeper (aka Widow) started with a dream!? I woke up and the majority of the story was just there! And the rest fell into place very seamlessly and within six weeks, the novel was done. The process was very much like… “oh look, she’s a on a train, I wonder where…oh! Look at that, she’s heading west!” and everything flowed without much of a thought (I’m not much of a planner when it comes to writing – even when I try to map things out, it never goes the way I mean…).
The fact that the book is told from the first person POV of a housekeeper in the 1880’s made it necessary to research about what kind of food and tools she’d have at her disposal. Looking at the old iron, tin, copper and brass that was available, usually as heirlooms, in that time period made me wish we had access to the same things. We used to walk down the street, not even 150 years ago, and have a local smith offer us handmade wares that would last generations. Why wasn’t that as easily available anymore? I didn’t mean to start a cookware line, and I had no notion how difficult it was going to be to reconstruct American copper cookware manufacturing, but it seemed like a natural progression from the research. Plus it made me start asking even more (research-inspired!) questions, such as…hmm….we care about where our food is grown and what our meat is fed…why don’t we care where our cookware is made and what it’s made from and who made it and where?
When writing historical fiction, a lot of authors might not do as much research as you. I must say I’m glad you do because your stories are full of such accurate descriptions that I feel like I’m right there inside the story with your characters. Can you tell us about your research process and how much time you spend getting these details right? Overall, how long does it take you to write a full-length novel?
You’re so sweet – I am so thrilled to know the details are appreciated!
The process is usually like this: Create overall main character. Get inside psychology of character. Go to library and check out at least 20-30 books that cover all aspects of time period and character’s world. Read/scan/take notes for the next 1-2 weeks. Become 1010% immersed and know the facts and information so well that it flows out of my fingers when I start to write as if the old world itself is part of my fiber (usually right before I start to write, I feel almost physically split, as if my feet are straddling both worlds, and I will glaze over in the middle of a conversation and feel as though I’m completely yanked into a different time period).
My novels are hitting over 100K words these days now, and it typically takes me 6-7 weeks to write the first full draft. Then it gets looked over again, by myself, before going to the editor.
I'm excited to celebrate the release of Widow 1881 today! What a lovely Valentine's Day gift to us all. To purchase your Kindle copy click here.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
The Dakota Territories held promise for misfits, outlaws, and hardened pioneers, but would Flats Junction offer enough sanctuary and hope for the widow from Back East? Boston widow Jane Weber moves to the Dakota Territories to reinvent herself. Stirring up controversy, Jane rooms with the last Blackfoot Sioux in town and navigates a mercurial friendship with the fiercely independent town grocer. She finds everyone has an untold story, including her unpredictable employer, the town doctor.
The Kindle version is available here for $5.99. The print version of "Widow 1881" has charming illustrations and a map of the Flats Junction, Dakota area. Both the digital and print editions come with Book Club Questions, Historical References, and Notes for the Reader.
I know there are at least two other books that are linked to the Dr. Kinney world . . . Becoming Dr. Kinney and Smith. I have been lucky enough to be an advance reader of these two. When will they others be available and are you writing more in this world? (I should mention here for readers that the world I'm talking about is the fictional town of Flats Junction and all of these books are connected to this western town.)
So thanks to the new publisher, all the manuscripts are being re-named with new titles.
It goes like this:
Smith (ca 1866)
Medicineman (ca 1850’s – 1875)
Widow (ca 1881)
Smith will be next after Widow, followed by Medicineman. And actually I just finished Book #4, to be called Outcast, I believe. And the title for #5 is, currently, Steelworker. I have no idea how far this will go. Ha!
What’s your next writing project likely to be? I’m sure you have other non-writing projects in the works as well. Can you share what’s new on that front?
Likely I’ll dive into Book #5 / Steelworker soon. And there will be a non-fiction book called FLAME due out within the next 6 months. I’m really excited about this, because it’s about the history, care and science of cookware, put into pretty accessible layman’s terms, but covers a huge swathe of history and facts. I’ve been fortunate to interview a ton of people across the country as well as some pretty huge cookware owners/manufacturers even in Europe for this book. Everyone does cookbooks, or focusses on one thing, like cast iron cooking, but this book is mainly about the cookware itself. And there are some old, vintage recipes included, but that’s not the focus at all. I want people to start thinking about their cookware as well as their food.
And of course, I’m always developing, designing and fabricating new cookware pieces for the line. We’re getting a copper skillet ready, created in the old American copper cookware shape that’s really rare to find in a vintage copper skillet made in the USA. Plus I’m bringing the fabricating largely in house to do myself, which will bring the costs down.
What’s your writing kryptonite?
Going down a research rabbit hole, especially in some of those tomes on Native American history. Or when I grab my book on the Lakota language, I start giving myself vocab lessons. 45 minutes later…I can tell you all about waŋblí (eagle) and pté (female buffalo) and aǧuyapí (bread) but my word count hasn’t moved…
Who is your favorite author, and what do you like most about their work?
Do I have to pick one??? Fine. Ken Follett.
Why? Because his melding of historical fiction and fact is ridiculously seamless. I can almost believe all those people in his novels actually really 110% existed.
What book are you reading now?
Book club read is The Wife of Wall Street, but I also read multiple books/pubs at the same time, so also this week’s Economist as well as Book #3 in Game of Thrones.
And, just for fun, what does your ideal day look like?
Hahahaha. You know that’s not a fair question!!! But it would go like this: kids are angels all day, play without fighting, get their own food, and handle all their own needs. I wake up, do some seriously hard yoga, go for a quick run, drink coffee and read Economist (this is all before 6:30am), and then spend the whole morning writing, then lunch (possibly outside of my office), followed by an afternoon of necessary marketing/crafting/metalsmithing in the shop. A lovely meal (that somehow cooks itself – even though I adore to cook and bake, lately the time just hasn’t been as easy to make for it!) followed by some wine, and then more writing. Obviously I’d have a wonderful second copy of myself to answer all emails and do social media. Ha!
Is there anything I’ve missed asking that you’d like readers to know about you and your novels?
Only to say it means the world that people are even reading my words. I hope to pass along random historical tidbits and information while entertaining. I hope it works! OH – and if you have ANY cookware questions, please feel free to email me!
Thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to take part in this interview!
Readers can learn more about Sara and her work at: